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Erasing Indigenous Names Of Places Is An Affront To Their History And Identity

Updated: Nov 16, 2021

Over the decades, many indigenous names of villages and places in Tripura have been replaced. As names disappear, so do the beautiful stories behind them.

The name of a place holds many stories of its making. Names are related to the cultures and languages of the people who have settled there from the beginning. It signifies the connection between the people and the local geography. For instance having a "hill" or "river" attached to a place's name can highlight its features even before someone has visited it.

This rock-carved hill is called Subrai Khung. Yet, it is known officially as Unakoti. Photo by Isha C

Based on such an understanding, villages and places in Tripura were also named by the original settlers based on geographical characteristics and features. One such name is "Hathai-kotor" which is in Kokborok, where 'Hathai' means land and 'kotor' means big. In this way the name of the place was of historical value. Today this set of hills is known as Bara Mura (Big Hill in Bengali language) and the older name is almost forgotten.

Similarly, many other places of Tripura were originally named after hills, rivers, and animals in the local Kokborok language. However, they have now been renamed in Bengali or Sanskrit. Hachwk-berem which is a set of tall hills has been renamed as Atharamura. Loksuma, Saidra and Dondra were the names of the rivers which flow in the state but have been renamed as Khowai, Howra and Dhalai river respectively. Twijilikma, where 'twi' signifies water has been renamed as Rudrasagar. Dongor lake has been renamed as Dumbur lake. Subrai Hathai, where Subrai means God and Hathai means hill, where the rock carved images of Gods are found, has been renamed as Unakoti. Mwtai-Hathai, where Mwtai meaning God has been renamed as Debtamura. Mayungtwisa and Mwswitwisa, the land of elephants and deers have been renamed as Hatichhara and Harincharra respectively. Twisarangchak, where 'rangchak' means gold has been renamed as Sonacharra. Hokutwisa, where 'hoku' meaning smoke has been renamed as Dummachhara. Thokhatthai, where 'thok' means oil has been renamed as Teliamura. Even the Royal Palace of Tripura, Nuyungma, has not been spared and is better known today as Ujjayanta Palace.

The disappearance of indigenous names is a result of cultural conflicts that have risen from unchecked migration and the resulting power imbalance. The history of Tripura is rift with the irony of fast demographic changes in which Tripuri people invited and welcomed non-tribals to seek shelter in the state during the 1971 war. However, the number of incoming refugees was so high that Tripuri indigenous people became a minority. Today the original settlers of Tripura form just 31.8% of the total population. Non-tribals, who had more experience of trade and governance rose quickly and dominated the economic and political spheres. Using their power, authorities renamed the places in Tripura thereby erasing the history and identity of the original people of the land. This trend has wiped out the connection between the original settlers and their places of residence.

This renaming of places is totally unnecessary and should be condemned not only by the Tripuris but also by the non-tribals who feel an injustice is being done to the Tripuris.

This article has been created as a part of the Adivasi Awaaz project, with the support of Misereor and Prayog Samaj Sevi Sanstha.


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